“Can you guys keep it down a bit…?”
“S-Sorry Dr. Mori…!” squeaked the meek class president. “Everyone off to your tasks for today!”
Dr. Mori was still hung-over from last night. I suppose I wasn’t the only one who forgot that we had a three-day class trip to look forward to. Today, we were supposed to prepare a big bonfire, where traditionally everyone would try to partner up and dance together. Given my circumstances in this world right now, that was looking pretty unlikely.
“My head feels like it’s being hit by a jackhammer right now…” Dr. Mori groans. “Do me a favor Kazuki, next time I decide to drink against Junpei, remind me not to.”
“…Or you could just pace yourself?”
“What’s the fun in that?” she says, disappointed.
I wasn’t too knowledgeable about how alcohol works and drinking culture, but I feel like Dr. Mori would be the poster child of what not to do. The last thing I would ever want is to drown my sorrows in beer.
But maybe that wouldn’t be a bad idea right now…
Because of the incident with the relay race, everyone decided for me that I should be in charge of bringing the firewood for later. Not that I didn’t mind of course. This was the easiest task available, as I would be doing practically nothing.
As everyone shuffles off to their tasks, class president turns her attention towards me.
“The storage shed is down the trail here. If you keep following it and make a right, you’ll see it. We’ve already contacted the campground ahead of time so there should be plenty of firewood there. Just lock it up when you're done since we don't want animals coming in.” she explains.
Class president leans in closer to me.
“Just be careful okay?”
“I got it.” I sigh.
It was beginning to get a little annoying to have everyone patronizing me. Was I that delicate? I may be poor physically, but even I can at least bring some stuff from point A to point B!
“Don’t push yourself today Kazuki, doctor’s orders.” says Dr. Mori.
I start walking out towards the shed in peace, noticing that Yuki-san was nowhere to be found. I think I saw her getting on the bus, but since then nothing. Most of my classmates awkwardly smile and wave at me as I head out, though I think they were gestures of pity. I feel like I’m the odd one out, but that didn’t really bother me. That was the least of my problems right now.
“There you are Kazuki-kun!”
It seems I’ve found another problem.
I turn around to see the new transfer student, Shion Masaki behind me.
The new transfer student was smiling at me, holding what seems to be a ladle in her hand. I would assume she was part of the crew to cook for us, but her sudden appearance makes me think otherwise. They were supposed to be stationed near our tents and cabins, not all the way out here in the woods.
“Uh…hello Masaki-san.” I awkwardly reply.
“Hmph!” she pouts. “I thought I told you to call me by my first name by now…”
I couldn’t help but feel a little suspicious of the new transfer student. Just why was she so friendly? Why was she so interested in someone like me?
“What is it you want Shion?”
Shion plays with her hair, twirling it around her dainty fingers.
“I’m just so sad…you were so close to receiving your reward you know?” she grins. “I guess I have to punish you instead…”
“I don’t have time for this Shion, just leave me alone.”
This whole charade was starting to get on my nerves. I couldn’t tell if she was being ironic or not, and I don’t intend on really finding out either with this strange girl.
“I’ll leave you alone…only if you tell me one thing.” she asks.
She leans into my ear, and whispers:
“I want to know your relationship with Daisuke Akatsuka.”
I suddenly felt my face getting warmer!
“W-What do you mean?!? H-He’s just my friend.” as I quickly try to compose myself.
“I see…then you would know where he is right now, right?”
“I…have no idea.” I reply.
Even if I did know, I wouldn’t tell her. There was something off about this girl, as I had a feeling she just spelled trouble for anyone who comes near her.
“That’s okay. I’ll find him later tonight anyways for the big bonfire.”
Shion’s eyes light up.
“You don’t know about the bonfire dance?!? I’ve only been here a day and even I know.” she says with a smug expression.
I’m not exactly a dancing person.
“There’s a legend or superstition you will be bound forever with the person you dance with at the bonfire.” she explains.
This was sounding more and more like something someone made up. I mean, did they conduct studies of this or something? Where was the scientific evidence to support this?!
“I’m sorry Kazuki-kun, but I have someone else in mind.” she teases to me.
“I just need to find Daisuke.” she mumbles under her voice.
Suddenly I can hear the sound of class president’s voice
Shion smiles, and turns around from me. I guess she was bored and just wanted to tease me or something.
Man…why does the shed have to be in the middle of nowhere?
As I try to catch my breath, I finally arrive back at the shed. It was old, with the metal exterior rusted and brown. If it wasn’t for class president’s directions, I would’ve been wandering around aimlessly. By this point, I must’ve made at least 20 trips back and forth from here to our site.
One more trip should do it…
“Akane? Where are you?”
That was unmistakably the voice of my former best friend Daisuke. I instantly hide myself inside the shed, hoping that he didn’t notice I was here. I hide myself right next to the entrance, and I peek out a little bit, until I hear a second voice.
“I’m sorry, I just wanted to take some pictures for Yui-chan.”
“I see. Thanks for that. She can’t go outside, but at least she can have something to look forward to when she gets out.”
My heart suddenly feels like its sinking. To overhear them talking like this, it seems as if they’re like a couple. I was seeing a whole other side of Yuki-san right now, one I wasn’t sure if I was ever going to see personally.
“Hey, what’s that shed over there?”
Oh come on!
I try my best to calm down. Why was I afraid of them finding out I was here anyways? Isn’t that what I’ve been trying to do for the past few days? I cover my mouth, attempting to quiet my panting and nervous breathing. I look to my side, and I see a silhouette in front of the entrance. It’s getting larger and larger.
What was I going to say when he comes in? “Hey you two, how’s it going?” Daisuke probably hates my guts right now, and if he catches me eavesdropping, there’ll be no going back. No more “partners-in-crime,” no more hanging out together, no more good times. I hold my breath, and close my eyes.
Don’t come in…
“Daisuke, let’s go. It’s getting late and by the time we get back, it’ll be the bonfire.” I hear Yuki-san shout.
The silhouette stops.
I breathe a sigh of relief. However, the silhouette is still getting bigger!
Here it comes!
I brace for Daisuke’s entrance, but he stops at the very last second.
“Someone must’ve forgotten to close this door…”
I stand perfectly still, as Daisuke shuts the door from the outside. I stand still, waiting until the coast was clear to compose myself.
That was close…
I slump down to the floor, leaning my back against the wall.
I’m such a coward…
I can’t believe I had to hide from my friend. I wanted to say something, but for some arbitrary reason I couldn’t. I’m afraid. I’m afraid of facing the truth, that maybe he was with Yuki-san.
I better get back now…
I stand up and try to compose myself. I grasp the handle and twist it.
I grip the door handle even tigher and twist again, shaking the door along with it. It wasn’t budging!
I can’t believe this is happening!
I kick and slam my fists on the door, but no luck.
“Help! I’m stuck in here! Anyone?!?”
I lean my forehead against the door resigned to my fate, as I am now currently stuck inside a shed. The door handle must’ve been broken or rusted given the condition of this place. The only other opening was a very small window, but there was no way I could fit inside there.
It’ll at least be a few hours until check-in that someone notices I’m gone…
There was no helping it, all I could do now was wait until help arrives – if at all.
I feel something tugging my sleeve from behind.
What is she doing here?!?
What is he going here?!?
My heart feels as if it’s going to burst out of my chest! My job was to gather firewood for my class. Being the fastest, it was a no-brainer that I would be able to make the most trips, so I was given the job.
I should've said something earlier! Why did I hide from him?
“W-What are you doing here Ka-Kazuki?!?”
“I-I was supposed to get the firewood for my class…how about you Mary?” he nervously lets out.
I start to chuckle to myself.
It must have been some luck to never run into Kazuki this whole time. I can’t tell whether or not I had the worst luck in the world or the best.
“Uh…you can let go of me now Mary…” he points out.
“Eep!” as I let go of his sleeve.
“Are you afraid of the dark?” he teases me.
“N-No! It’s j-just I’m not a fan of small spaces…”
I try my best to stay brave, thinking of better things.
Back to our problem.
“Are we stuck in here?” I asked.
Kazuki nods. “It’ll be a few hours until check-in.”
I sigh heavily.
I stand up.
“We’ve got our cell phones right?”
Kazuki stands up as well.
I reach into my track suit’s right pocket…and then the left…and then I check my breast pocket…nope.
“I forgot my cell phone back at the site…” I sigh.
You’re an idiot Mary!!!
“Luckily for us, I’m not a knucklehead…” Kazuki jokes.
Kazuki reaches into his back pocket and pulls out his cell phone. He still had the same cell phone all this time, even when I accidentally dropped it one time when we exchanged numbers. He paces back and forth, raising it towards the window.
“No signal…” he says with a bleak expression.
We were in the woods and middle of nowhere; of course there would be no signal.
“Wait, what about the window?” he points out.
I turn my head and see a small window.
“There’s no way I can fit through there, even if you helped me up.”
“I guess we just have to wait.” as he sits right back down.
I follow suit and sit down as well. It was starting to get dark now, as I can see outside the small window that sunlight was getting dimmer. Suddenly, I feel an awkward tension fill the air.
“So uh…” I break the silence. “H-How are you doing Kazuki?”
“F-Fine Mary. Th-Thank you.” he seemed surprised at my sudden voice.
I’m feeling anxiety beyond belief! This was the first time we’ve been alone together since my confession. It didn’t help that we were locked inside this small shed together as well.
NGHRNGHRNGHR! What’s wrong with you Mary!
The truth was that I was sort of glad they gave me this job. I just wanted to be alone, away from my track friends. I felt this emptiness around them ever since the relay race the other day. When I won the race, all they did was congratulate me! Even when I heard the gasps from the audience, I kept running forward, almost like an emotionless machine. Why did I run away from Kazuki? The man I cared about the most. My track friends that had suspicions of my crush on him didn’t bother to ask me about it. They just threw meaningless praise at me, as if that’s what I needed. I didn’t want any of that – I just wanted Kazuki to be okay.
Am I just the Roadrunner to them?
He was looking thinner than I remembered. Kazuki’s eyes seemed different than usual. I didn’t see the same look of determination I adored, and instead saw his sunken eyes, probably from lack of sleep. I’ve been worried about him non-stop, but I just never found the right opportunity to say something to him. Why was I pretending everything is fine after my confession to him?
Say something Mary.
“Can we talk Kazuki?”
“A-About what Mary?” he stutters.
“About what’s going on between us, you idiot.” I sigh.
I’ve known him for almost two years now, and I could tell if he had something bothering his mind. Clearly he knew what I was talking about, and I knew what was bothering him, but I just didn’t want to make any baseless assumptions. We’ve been avoiding this too long, and I can’t be a coward anymore. I take a deep breath.
“I’m sorry I didn’t help you when you collapsed!” I let out.
“N-No, I was fine anyways Mary. Just a little dehydration haha…” he tries to reassure me.
I clenched my fists. Even when I abandoned him he was still like this. If I loved him so much, why didn’t I go rushing to him immediately? Was it because of my pride? My competitive spirit? What was that good for without someone to share it with? What was the point of being so great if I kept it all to myself? I know he was just trying to make me feel better, but that’s not what I needed.
“You…idiot!” I stand up. “How can you tell me you’re fine?!?” I shout at him.
There was no way I could get through to this idiot without being honest! I wipe away the tears forming in my eyes. I can’t cry now; I’m not a child anymore. I can’t live with myself if I just kept saying everything’s okay, when it clearly isn’t.
“Why are you okay with this?” I ask him.
He looks at me, confused.
“With what?” he replies.
This dense idiot. Maybe it’s my fault for being so vague.
Finally, I make it clear to him.
“Why are you being so nice to me Kazuki? Why are you even talking with me right now?”
My chest was pounding. I felt like I was going to collapse, just from letting that out. My mind was going blank, eagerly awaiting his response.
“Because you’re my friend Mary. Why wouldn’t I be nice to you?”
Suddenly my heart felt like it was being pierced by a knife.
I can’t stop now, not this time. He needs to know how much that hurts to hear.
“That’s all I am, isn’t it?” That’s all I’m ever going to be with you, right? What’s wrong with me Kazuki?”
I ignore the tears streaming down my face and continue.
“I don’t care what anyone thinks about me, but why do I feel this heavy burden around you?”
He finally stands up, not even raising his head to look at me in the eyes. I wait, and I wait, but he says nothing.
“What does Akane have that I don’t? We’ve talked to each other every day! I know your favorite food, your favorite song, your favorite show! I’ve always been there for you, and I’ve always been by your side. What else am I supposed to do? One day a complete stranger comes along, and you fall in love with her in an instant! Do you know what it’s like to see the person you love, desperately want to be with someone else…?” I cry out. “Talk to me Kazuki! You idiot!”
I couldn’t help it anymore. Any ounce of composure I had was gone. Tears streamed down my face, but I kept my breathing steady.
He was still silent, looking at the ground as if the answers were written in the dirt. After everything that’s happened, everything that I’ve said, he still can’t look at me in the eyes. He still wants to be friends with me?
Please…just let me go.
“Nothing is wrong with you Mary. In fact, I think you’re perfect in almost every way. I’m very lucky to have you in my life.” he finally says.
“Stop it Kazuki!” I plead at him. “I’m not perfect. I confessed to you even though Akane is my friend. I knew that you that were in love with her, and that you two should have been together, but I couldn’t stop myself from ruining that. To be honest, I didn’t want to stop myself. We’re in this mess all because of me Kazuki, and even if you don’t want to admit it, it’s true! I ruined what we all had as friends, because I’m selfish! Because I was afraid of losing the one person I cared about the most out of jealousy. How can you have someone like me around?” I couldn’t keep up with my voice, as I felt like I was whispering at him hoarsely, begging for him to shut me down. I want him to stop me from myself.
I’m the idiot…
I look down, defeated. This was a mistake. I’ve burned all my bridges. How am I going to fix-
Suddenly I feel his arms wrap around me. His warm embrace shocks me back to reality. I bury my face into his chest out of some inexplicable instinct. I’m crying even harder in front of him, but I don’t care. I need to get all of it out – no matter what. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself I couldn’t get my feelings across to him.
“Mary…I’m sorry. I don’t know how to keep everything the same anymore. I’ve always felt like I was the one standing in the way for everyone, and that I never deserved this much kindness.” he says softly into my ear.
“You idiot…” I sob to him. “But the way we are now, the way I feel with your arms wrapped around me, I…” I look up with tears in my eyes, seeing his quaint smile. I can’t help but smile back at him.
“I want us to be like this forever. I don’t want to just be someone you have to comfort, something you have to save. I don’t want to be known as the Roadrunner of Kasumigaseki high. I want to be a woman that suited you.”
Finally, I let go of his warm embrace. He seemed surprised at my sudden movement. I take a deep breath.
“Please go out with me.” I let out as I bow my head towards him.
I have no regrets.
I stay silent, unable to form any thoughts. By now the sun was completely down, and the moonlight shines through the window. Mary’s face was red and puffy, but somehow she looked like the most beautiful girl I’ve ever laid my eyes upon.
How can I answer her feelings?
I can’t go out with Mary. The whole point was to get with Yuki-san right? All the time and effort I put in with Akane would all be for nothing. Plus, wouldn’t I technically be cheating on Akane if I started dating Mary?
I’m sorry Mary but-
As my mouth begins to form words, I’m suddenly interrupted.
“We can do a trial run!” she nervously lets out.
“A trial run…?”
“I know that was selfish request of me, but maybe we can try it out. Why don’t we go out for one day, and then we can break up if you dislike being with me.”
“I-I can’t. Dating as a trial run? That’s wrong I-“
Mary grabs my hands, interrupting my train of thought.
“Please…If I back down now, it will all be for nothing.” she pleads. I want you to see me like I see you, Kazuki.”
I finally let out my words, hoping that I do not disappoint her once more.
“I’m sorry…but I can’t give you an answer right now.”
Mary averts her eyes from me, but then her pale blue eyes look back at me.
“You know Kazuki…right now is the bonfire dance.” She turns her body away from me. “Have you heard about the legends and myth about it?” she asks.
“Only something about being bound for life together.” I chuckle anxiously.
Mary turns around towards me, smiling.
“I know we’re stuck inside this small shed, but if you can’t give me an answer now, then at least dance with me?”
She raises her delicate hand towards me.
If I can’t give her an answer now…then the least I can do is dance with her right?
Even if the legends weren’t true, I wouldn’t want Mary out of my life. I cared about her a lot…maybe more than anyone else.
“Like you know how to dance.” I quipped.
I take her hand, as we awkwardly danced the night away.